I thought it might be fun to have a series of blogs (and, since it’s my blog, whatever I think might be fun seems pretty likely to find its way into print) on Broncos by the numbers.
The team has just completed 50 years of play, a milestone in any franchise history, and over that time a lot of players have made contributions, large and small, to what the Broncos are. It’s like family members, some more accomplished than others but when you are in a family, you are in for keeps. So too for the Broncos. Once a Broncos, always a Bronco.
Those players have worn a lot of numbers over the years, and we are going to take a look, over time, at various uniform numbers.
The recent signing of Champ Bailey to a new four-year contract prompted the thought that in Denver Broncos history, the number “24” is all about cornerbacks, and all about the Hall of Fame.
Thirteen players have worn number 24 in the 51 years of Broncos history, nine defensive backs and four running backs.
Otis Armstrong led the NFL in rushing twice and went to the Pro Bowl as the Broncos’ leading rusher, but really, “24” is all about Champ Bailey, and before him, Willie Brown.
Willie Brown was signed by the Broncos as an undrafted free agent out of Grambling in 1963 and played four years in the Mile High City.
In 1964 he had nine interceptions and made the American Football League all-star game that year. On a personal note of no great interest to anyone but me, I remember vividly Willie Brown intercepting four passes in the very first Bronco game I ever saw in person—November 15, 1964 against the New York Jets—I remember going to old Bears Stadium and buying one ticket at one of those old wooden ticket booths that minor league ballparks used to have—I walked up on game day and bought a ticket on the 35-yard line! That was just a different time in pro sports history and in the history of a developing Western city.
Brown was traded after four years and went on to continue and certainly enhance his Hall of Fame career with the Oakland Raiders. Today, he is remembered mostly, and almost entirely, as a Raider.
But regarding wearing number 24 in the Denver defensive backfield, it turned out he was just setting the table for Champ Bailey.
Champ without question already is one of the great cornerbacks in pro football history and was named first team on the NFL,s All-Decade team for the 2000’s—the All-Decade teams are chosen by the pro football Hall of Fame selection committee members and certainly selection to it at Champ’s relatively young age suggests his extraordinarily strong candidacy for eventual membership in the Hall of Fame.
Champ needs two more interceptions to reach 50 for his career, and he is recognized just as much for his overall approach to the game and to team leadership—Champ always makes the tackle, never avoids the big collision, always says and does the right thing.
He handles his leadership duties like the true captain that he is.
Like most players, he is not crazy about doing press, but he faithfully executes his interviews in a regular and respectful manner, enough so that he has been recognized by the Denver press repeatedly for his regular and mature dealings with them. Champ is very active in our community and was the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in both 2008 and 2009 for his work in the community.
Just a class guy.
If anything, Champ Bailey perhaps has not been given enough credit for staying here. Free agency exists in the NFL and as a soon-to-be free agent Champ had every right to test the waters, see what all the other teams might have to offer. Certainly, one would expect that there would have been a lot of scenarios presented to Champ Bailey for his services.
But when Champ said he wanted to stay here, that he felt comfortable here, part of the community, with respect for the organization and what John Elway, John Fox, and Brian Xanders are building, Champ was not just giving lip service.
He meant it.
Every athlete has a right to leave, but Champ exercised his right to stay. We are so proud of Champ Bailey.
And it real easy to be proud of him and respect him as a player, since he is one of the best players in the game. But if anything, Champ Bailey has proved himself to be an even better person, and the Broncos and Denver are fortunate to have him as one of our own.